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Sunday, 31 January 2016 16:40

A Simple Tap or Touch can Mean so Much

Written by  Molly Watt
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Something I am often asked at my presentations is what is the best and most acceptable way to approach or get the attention of a deafblind person.

My answer would be ‘touch,’ however so many seem uncomfortable with this!

I have noticed here in the UK most people are not as “touchy feely” as those in Europe.

Here a greeting tends to be a fairly stiff and formal handshake which is a nightmare for me as I cannot see a handshake coming, whereas in Europe and further afield a greeting is more of an embrace, a kiss or cheek to cheek which is better from my point of view as I am able to establish eye contact fairly easily.

I think the general feeling here is not wanting to evade somebody’s personal space, however for those of us with sensory impairment being touched/tapped appropriately as a way of getting somebody’s attention is no big deal and usually acceptable.

I was born deaf and now deafblind I can say getting the attention of a deaf person is different to getting the attention of a deafblind person. 

Touch has taken on a whole new meaning.

Before I lost my sight I got used to being tapped on the shoulder to get my attention, tapping is acceptable. 

I could use my sight to compensate for my deafness, a tap would bring an immediate response in that I would turn and look to where the tap came from.  On getting eye contact a conversation could begin, orally or sign language as I could lipread, follow facial gesture and body language.

Reliance on visual clues on a one to one basis is always much easier than a two, three or more way conversation, something to bear in mind.

I am oral, however this would be the same irrespective of method of communication.  Whether communicating with speech or sign language most deaf people lipread.

Being deaf means concentrating really hard on all visual clues to aid with listening and communication and is very tiring. 

Environment can make a big difference, quiet or noisy, light or dark can effect communication and patience is always appreciated.

If approaching somebody you know to be deaf and who's involved in a visual orientated conversation, the key would be to tap that person on the shoulder and wait until they turn to face you - DO NOT stand too close, or exaggerate your lip movements when you open conversation.

Be happy and willing to repeat yourself if asked to do so, repeat, not shout! 

Equally if somebody uses sign language allow that person to tell you how they would like to communicate, just because you might not sign do not think you cannot communicate, there’s always a way be it by gesture and a little guess work or even by writing things down.

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER think deaf, cannot hear so no point trying to converse at all.  We all want to be included, isolation is a very lonely place.  Think VISUAL,VISUAL, VISUAL. 

This is how things worked for me whilst I was deaf. 

I enjoyed socialising and rarely felt left out.  

In mainstream my friends knew to give me a tap on the shoulder to get my attention and I coped very well.

The time I spent with deaf children I noticed they used touch regularly to get each others attention, they would also flick the light switches on and off which I hated as changing light effects my sight so much and is painful, not to be recommended, tapping far more friendly for all.

For a deafblind person, the approach is different. 

A tap is a gentle touch and not as useful for a deafblind or blind person.  

I benefit more from a hand gently placed on my arm or shoulder, this enables me to turn towards the hand touching me and scan from where the hand is upwards toward the face of the person wanting to converse with me.  

Once I’m looking towards the face then speak clearly. This is really helpful.

As someone who has both deafness and blindness the sense of touch has become so important as has the sense of smell in my daily coping strategies.  

Both senses enable familiarisation, familiarisation of places, of people and of things.

Touch is another way the deafblind communicate, hand on hand or tactile signing, braille. 

I’ve often wondered is the thought of simply touching somebody offputting, if it is please reconsider, I would far rather somebody touched me to get my attention than ignored me.

I always want to feel included, I want people to want to talk to me, to feel comfortable in my company.

I am Molly, I just happen to have Usher Syndrome.

“Blindness separates people from things;

deafness separates people from people.” Helen Keller

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